By Ron White
*Editors Note: Warner Christian defeated FAMU 21-13 Friday night in South Daytona to secure a spot in the Class 1B state championship game, which will be played on Friday (Dec. 12) at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
While the behemoths of Florida high school football continue to garner the attention of many, a small Daytona Beach school is on the verge of a significant achievement.
Daytona Beach Warner Christian hosts Tallahassee FAMU tonight in a Class 1B state semifinal matchup just 13 days after the Eagles’ girls volleyball team claimed a 1A state title.
And the storylines don’t end there. Warner Christian’s volleyball feat, which came to fruition after the Eagles defeated Lake Worth Christian 25-19, 21-25, 25-11, 25-14 on Nov. 22 in the state championship match, came one year after a shocking development.
During an October 2007 match, Debbie Wingard, who has coached at the school since the 1970s collapsed courtside during a match and was hospitalized after an apparent seizure.
Her players, friends and nearly all who near her rallied around Wingard, who recovered enough to coach the team in the state semifinals and in the state championship match against eventual state champion Tampa Bayshore Christian.
But that was supposed to be it for Wingard, who considered hanging up her whistle last winter. Then-junior Jordan Holcomb had other plans. Holcomb wanted Wingard back, and she made it known.
Wingard accepted the challenge of coaching for another season, and Warner rewarded her with a state championship and a 30-1 season.
It was just the second state championship in the school’s history. Warner also won a boys basketball state title in 1980.
Warner assistant Vanessa Tress is set to take the helm next season.
Now, the football team is in line to add its own bit of magic for those seniors set to depart in May.
Warner Christian (11-1) puts its state title hopes on the line against an FAMU team that sports a 9-3 record against some stiff competition. FAMU won the 2006 state title, and it took a win against the Eagles to achieve that. FAMU defeated Warner 37-13 that year.
Warner is a team that does it with its running game. On offense, running back Breon Allen is the key. He has rushed for 1,314 yards and 15 touchdowns this season and averages better than 9 yards per carry.
Warner’s change of pace back is fullback Mat Hukill, a powerful runner who also keys the team’s defense from his linebacker spot. Hukill also averages better than 9 yards per rush. He has rushed for 655 yards this season. Jeremy Bailey adds a third backfield option. The Eagles’ signal-caller is Shelton Willis, who has thrown for 942 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. If he can establish himself early, it could open the door for a big day for the offense. Otherwise, FAMU is expected to key on Allen and Hukill.
Hukill is the leading tackler with 135 tackles. Bailey has 97 tackles and three sacks and uses his speed to plow into the backfield on most plays. Warner defensive end Jamari Daniels has 14 sacks this season to go with 93 tackles, and teammate Marcus Bush has 81 tackles and eight sacks. They’ll be counted on to stop FAMU’s passing game.
Also taking the field tonight are Daytona Beach Seabreeze, Sanford Seminole, Cocoa Apopka and Boone. Those five teams are playing regional finals games, with the most focus on the matchup between Apopka and Seminole, a pair of teams led by offensive juggernauts.
Of the quintet of Central Florida teams still playing, Seabreeze offers one of the most intriguing stories. Quarterback Matt Thompson was expected to shine for the Sandcrabs this season, but he was hurt in the team’s season-opening 20-14 win against Spruce Creek. Seabreeze lost three of its next four to fall to 2-3 but rebounded wth a three-game win streak to earn a spot in the playoffs.
Dominique Roberts has provided the bulk of the team’s offense. He took over for Thompson and has excelled as a mobile quarterback. The team designs many of its running plays for him, and he’s an adept passer, also. Just 5-5 heading into the playoffs, there was little talk of the Sandcrabs, but Seabreeze rattled off two straight wins to reach tonight’s road game against Orange Park Ridgeview (8-4).
Volleyball: Central Florida Has Four State Champs
Another small school that has achieved much is Orlando First Academy, and it was the Royals who claimed the 2A girls volleyball state title. The Royals defeated Palmer Trinity 25-18, 25-12, 25-17 to become the second Central Florida team to earn a state title in the sport.
In all, Central Florida teams claimed four of the six state volleyball titles.
In addition to First Academy and Warner, Orlando’s Lake Highland Prep a won a state title, repeating as the 3A champs. LHP defeated Berkeley Prep 25-19, 25-23, 19-25, 25-11. Lake Highland finished the season at 25-7.
In Class 6A, Orlando Timber Creek won a state championship with a 25-19, 25-20, 25-15 win against Royal Palm Beach.
Winter Park Lake Howell just missed a volleyball state title. Lake Howell (26-6) reached the Class 5A state finals before falling to Tampa Plant 25-22, 25-15, 25-23.